I recently saw a post on LinkedIn from someone working in Colorado stating how she takes advantage of the time spent commuting to work. I do the same thing and it's sometimes my most creative moments in the day. I commute to work a few days a week and when I do I have a 45 minute drive. It's not 45 minutes of traffic, but actual driving through the Florida countryside (yes, there is more than just beaches in Florida). Being that I try to be as efficient I as can, I have come up with many things I can get done which gives me more time in the day for other things. For safety reasons, most of these tasks are verbal-auditory related. According to Multiple Resource Theory, time-sharing performance is most efficient if the tasks utilize separate resource structures (Wickens, 2002), and driving is quite manually and visually demanding (at least for now until self-driving cars take over). So I would not suggest learning how to juggle while driving.
Taking advantage of your commute time can leave you with more time to do the things you like and that seems to make a lot of people happy. A study was conducted and found that choosing to have more time over more money was linked to greater happiness (Hershfield, Mogilner, & Barnea, 2016). Here are some things that you can get done so when you arrive to work or back home, you have more time and are less stressed.
Catch up with family and friends
Call your mother! Our busy work days make it difficult to keep in touch with family and friends, especially if we are always on the go. But when you have 45mins to 2hrs (roundtrip) of driving, it’s a great opportunity to call family and friends. This does not mean text them or send them messages through social media, this means do the traditional thing that phones were initially designed for…talking. Not only does talking with family and friends make them happy, it can also be healthy for everyone. A meta-analytic review (meaning a review of a lot of studies) found that there was a 50% increase of survival for people with stronger social relationships (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010). Some may argue that their parents will be the death of them (and I'm sure their parents would say the same about them, mine do), but
there is always someone to talk to that would appreciate hearing from you. Of course, remember to use a hands-free device.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
Nowadays there are podcasts for everything and they usually run 10-45 mins. Imagine how many new things you could learn during your commute? Maybe it's not work related at all, but something that just interests you, like potentially learning a new language so you can travel the world. I often listen to comedy and usability podcasts (which accurately describes me as a funny nerd). Either way, use this time wisely, as it's already consumed by the commute. Take your time back and use it for something you want.
dEAL WITH lIFE TASKS
No one ever wants to talk with customer service for insurance, bank, phone, and cable companies, especially because you are usually put on hold. Well, when you have a long commute it seems like a great time to get these necessary calls out of the way. Many people are usually pretty rude to customer service representatives and tend to take their aggression out on them for having to make these time consuming calls, but it's not their fault. With all this extra time, you can be patient and treat them more politely. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten fees reversed, credits awarded, and free upgrades, and I believe its partially attributable to how I treated the customer service rep. Try it and see what happens.
Part of my job requires a lot of talking and presenting, and in order to do so I need to make sure my vocal strength is top notch. I'm also a musician, and even though I may not be a rockstar (yet), I try avoiding sounding like a screeching cat. A few days a week I listen to vocal exercise tracks and practice to make sure my vocals are a well-oiled machine (although there's usually a rusty gear in there somewhere). If anyone has heard vocal exercises, then you know it's best done in solitude and the car is the perfect place. Plus once I'm done I can crank up the radio and rock out with some tunes and only receive partial dirty looks from other drivers on the road. Use this time to practice something like a speech, presentation, or becoming a mindful driver (we can all use a little practice there).
Creative silent Bliss
Rarely do we have a time during the day when there is complete silence and sometimes it's this nothingness that is needed. Turning the radio off, silencing your phone, and just feeling the monotonous vibrations of the car on the road can be the perfect way to start or wind down the day. The monotonous stimuli can be a way for your mind to focus on a specific problem and come up with creative solutions (Sawyer, 2006). The act of driving can help trigger a mental "incubation period" for new ideas (Carson, 2010). Dopamine (a neurotransmitter that is associated with many functions such as movement, sleep, learning, mood, memory, and attention) can influence creativity (Flaherty, 2005) and we get a release of it when we drive to and from work (assuming you enjoy going to either of those places). Therefore, your driving commute may be the place where you come up with your next brilliant idea. Just as many great innovators and thinkers have used various activities to allow their minds to wander creatively, such as walking (Friedrich Nietzsche & Steve Jobs), jogging (Alan Turing), and even showering (me), you can use driving as a way to foster your creativity.
What other safe, productive things do you do during your driving commute to and from work? Leave a comment below.
Carson, S. (2010). Your creative brain: Seven steps to maximize imagination, productivity, and innovation in your life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Flaherty, A.W. Frontotemporal and dopaminergic control of idea generation and creative drive. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 493(1), 147-153.
Hershfield, H.E., Mogilner, C., & Barnea, U. (2010). People who choose time over money are happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(7), 697-706.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., & Layton, J.B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLOS Medicine, 7(7), e1000316.
Sawyer, R.K. (2006). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Wickens, C.D. (2002). Multiple resources and performance prediction. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 3(2), 159-177.
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